Friday, July 18, 2008

Life's choices in a stark context

Today I was going to write about that fact that I've felt immersed in bad news this week, and I am therefore looking forward to seeing Mamma Mia! rather than The Dark Knight over the weekend. But this morning I read an newspaper article that shed some light on our local bad news in a relevant way. So I am going to go ahead and dive in to the real-life darkness.

I've been immersed in rewriting the Mojo Mom chapters about relationships, work and money. I have worked on these three topics simultaneously because to me they form three strands of the puzzle knot at the center of our lives.

So with this on my mind, a local tragedy has hit me on several levels. This week in Cary North Carolina, Nancy Cooper, a mother of two young girls, went missing. After a massive two-day search, she was found dead, not far from her home. Cooper was remembered as a fast friend who was at the center of a tight-knit circle of young families.

"The ease with which she bonded and made friends was amazing," said Brett Adam, [a friend's] husband.

Even children flocked to her. She'd lead gaggles through the neighborhood on a hunt for frogs, even though the creatures made her squirm.

Cooper seemed to revel in motherhood, but she had hoped to go back to work after her daughters, now 4 and 2, got a bit older, said friend Damia Tabachow. In Canada, Nancy Cooper had run a clothing boutique and an information technology company, friends said.

Though she spent her days chasing after two young children, friends say Cooper always looked glamorous, somehow making even a baseball cap appear fashionable.

"Everything just came naturally to her," Tabachow said. "She made it look easy."

Life is rarely that easy once you look below the surface. Police have not named a suspect in her murder, but today's newspaper reporting looked into the details of the Coopers' marital troubles. Nancy and her husband Bradley were both Canadian. They moved to the United States for his job and that effectively made Nancy "stuck" in the United States. She had wanted to go home to Canada with her two daughters this spring, but her husband hid the girls' passports.

Nancy was here on her husband's immigration status. He had applied for green cards for both of them but they had not arrived yet. So Nancy could not get a job, and she could not go home to Canada. An immigration lawyer was quoted as saying "Whatever her status she had is dependent on his status and his willingness to include her."

As I have been rewriting my book the idea that choices are made in a context keeps going through my head. (Lisa Belkin recently said this in the NY Times and that phrase really stuck with me.) Nancy Cooper's life illustrates that starkly. Choosing Bradley's transfer from Cisco in Calgary to Cisco in NC may have seemed like a great opportunity for the family. Choosing to embrace staying at home with her kids was making the best of her available options since she couldn't work in the US. But the element of choice doesn't make the context any less important:

To move to the U.S., Nancy Cooper shelved a budding career in the tech world and left a clothing boutique she ran in Calgary, her friends have said. Here, friends said, Nancy Cooper's visa didn't allow her to work, so she raised her daughters full-time.

"We had talked about how difficult it could be to be confined," said Adam, a friend of Nancy. "But it was a reality that she chose and knew -- for Nancy being a mother was everything."
(from the Raleigh News & Observer, "Family: Cooper stuck in U. S.")

This is an evolving situation and I don't even have a take-home message yet. Just sadness and anger about Nancy Cooper's tragic death, and the fact that mothers are so often put into vulnerable positions.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This week I have been reading the novel The Ten Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer and after reading your blog today it made me realize how the reality of each female character’s choices in regard to relationships, work and money was sad in some context. It truly is alarming at how isolated and limited a SAH mother of young children can become even in our country in the 21st Century. Although the complexity of immigration laws in America played a large role in the stark context of Ms. Cooper's access to earn income and travel beyond our borders, I as a SAH mother of twin toddlers, do not find her situation surprising. Maybe this is because I have experience first hand, that the relocation to a new part of the country or limits in access to transportation can greatly isolate mothers. I can thus only imagine the sacrifices that Ms. Cooper made for her young girls. In my experience at motherhood it seems that sacrifice plays a larger role than choice.

3:15 PM  

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